WEDNESDAY 23 MAY 2018 2:22 PM


On a mild May morning, following a walk through Leeds city centre and along the canal, delegates to last week’s #CommsHero event were greeted with a friendly smile, ‘swag bag’ and delectable views across the city. And so began the movement’s 14th event since it launched in 2014, a product of marketing communication firm Resource’s commitment to celebrating the heroics that communications professionals achieve every day.

In the day’s opening address, conference chairman and #CommsHero champion Asif Choudry expounded the key message of the day - ‘start with why.’ Taken from motivational speaker and international marketer Simon Sinek’s book of the same name, Choudry explained how #CommsHero was founded on wanting to disrupt the traditional conference model. Why? To bring enjoyment back into communications, networking - and most of all, learning.

Self-confessed ‘Nana of public service social media’ Helen Reynolds was first to take the helm, waking up tired brains with an exercise that involved each table creating their idea comms superhero. Artistic talents notwithstanding, the ideas generated were revolutionary at best and interesting at worst - who wouldn’t want unlimited cake in the office? But as well as warming up the room the exercise, crucially, highlighted the myriad issues comms professionals face each day. By helping delegates identify their weakness, Reynolds helped the comms professionals in attendance figure out what changes could aid their continued professional development.

In an unexpected turn of events, marketing guru Grant Leboff began with an anecdote about the Sex Pistols and a phone-in show. His intentions soon became clear, however, once Leboff said, ‘Everybody knows what engagement is - or do they?’ and immediately got everyone in the room questioning how they’d come to define engagement so far. It means occupies, says Leboff, or taken, or busy. This is the effect brands want content to have on their audience - and content, says Leboff, is key. Without content there can be no engagement, but with content comes the audience’s attention. As Leboff says, and especially true for communications and brand professionals, ‘Attention is the no.1 currency on planet Earth.’

Following lunch and a chance to chat with fellow #CommsHero attendees, the first two afternoon slots were perfectly filled by Rachel Royall and Eva Lake, and Caroline King, respectively. While King encouraged the #CommsHero-es to vent their frustration by producing slogans for mock t-shirts (with a promise from Choudry that they’d soon become the real thing), Royall and Lake used their expertise in digital engagement across the NHS to discuss why ‘Communication is the sister of leadership.'

Working in one of the most highly scrutinised UK organisations comes with its own unique challenges - but for Royall and Lake, key to their ongoing development is a commitment to defending why every decision made has an impact. Especially in the year of the NHS’ 70th birthday, it remains as important as ever to ‘speak truth to power’ says Lake. Staff-first advocacy and communication is key to this, and helps address the trust deficit which so often dogs the NHS and its output.

Perhaps most highly anticipated of the day came following a coffee and (what else, at a #CommsHero event) Krispy Kreme break. Helena Langdon, head of digital and communities at innocent drinks, gave a witty and interesting insight into innocent’s Twitter feed - which has much the same characteristics. Perhaps most poignantly was Langdon’s refrain, ‘If you’re 70% sure, go ahead and do it.’ After all, nobody became successful without taking a bit of risk, as one look at innocent’s social media channels confirms.

Finally Rob Jefferson, web and digital manager at Doncaster Council and Liam Smith, former communications officer at Doncaster Council and current digital marketing executive at Yorkshire Wildlife Park, ended the day with a stand-up comedy routine-cum-presentation. Telling the story behind the council’s highly successful campaign to name its new gritters, the #DoncasterGrittingWorldCup, Jefferson and Smith highlighted why doing the unexpected is sometimes the most effective.

Like Langdon, the pair demonstrated the power of social media in communications and explained how content with a human face creates the best results. It’s no use acting or behaving like a council, says Smith, because that’s what followers expect. It’s much better to remain relevant in an engaging way - and hopefully get the audience on-side for future, perhaps more serious campaigns.

The most noticeable thing about a #CommsHero event is the atmosphere. The most impressive thing is the calibre and enthusiasm and speaker. And the most interesting thing is the people.

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